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Reports Dec 30, 2021 | 12:20 PMby Colin McGourty

World Blitz Day 1: Aronian leads as Carlsen struggles

Levon Aronian scored 10/12 on Day 1 of the World Blitz Championship in Warsaw to take the sole lead going into the final 9 rounds. His closest rivals are Bassem Amin (9.5) and Parham Maghsoodloo (9), but the 12-player group on 8.5 points includes Magnus Carlsen, Hikaru Nakamura, Ian Nepomniachtchi, Alexander Grischuk, Daniil Dubov, Arjun Erigaisi, Vladislav Artemiev and Anish Giri. The Women’s World Blitz is led by 17-year-old Rapid silver medalist Bibisara Assaubayeva on 8/9, with 20-year-old Vaishali just half a point behind. 

Magnus Carlsen's 3 defeats were as many as he'd suffered in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 World Blitz Championships combined | photo: Rafal Oleksiewicz, FIDE

You can replay all the games from the World Blitz Championship in Warsaw using the selector below. 

And here’s the day’s live commentary from Jan Gustafsson and Peter Leko. 

Big guns struggle

3-minute blitz is notoriously unpredictable, and with so many stars in action in Warsaw it was inevitable that we’d get to see more vulnerability than we’re used to from the world’s best chess players. That was true especially at the start, for instance with Hikaru Nakamura struggling in Round 1 before making a draw against German IM Maximilian Berchtenbreiter. 

Hikaru would, like Ian Nepomniachtchi, finish the day unbeaten, but he drew a remarkable 6 of his first 8 games.

Alireza Firouzja was taken down by Timur Gareyev in Round 1 | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

One of the hot favourites, Alireza Firouzja, lost to Timur Gareyev in Round 1 and would start with 1/3, Vladislav Artemiev started with 0.5/3 (before winning 8 of the next 9 games), Sergey Karjakin lost 3 of his first 5 games (but later ended with 6/7), while local hero Jan-Krzysztof Duda crashed to Mikhail Demidov in Round 2. 17…Rfd8? was a losing blunder. 

18.Rxc5! Nxc5 19.b4! and White had an overwhelming advantage.

Duda had a tough day, but he did manage to trick his compatriot Socko and give checkmate from what had been a lost position | photo: Anna Shtourman, FIDE

At first it seemed as though only Magnus Carlsen among the absolute favourites was avoiding such turbulence. He went into the event having won the last three World Blitz Championships, conceding only 3 losses (2 in 2017, 0 in 2018 and 1 in 2019), and he started with 4/4. He got some help from Sanan Sjugirov leaving his queen en prise, but otherwise there was just one really shaky moment, in Round 4. 

Here Klementy Sychev played 24…Ne7? and after 25.Bf7! Magnus went on to win, but it turns out 24…Nb4! wins more or less on the spot. 25.Bf3 Nxd3 and White’s position falls apart, while 25.Bf7 fails to 25…Bc6+! and the queen capturing on f7.

That proved just the prelude to the next round, where Bartosz Socko was for the first time in his life applauded after a game of chess. It was well-deserved, since with one small slip (29…Rd7! was a chance for Magnus) he’d smoothly outplayed the World Champion.  

Bartosz was thrilled.

His wife Monika, who scored 6/9 in the Women’s event, said she was almost crying at the result and would have taken 0/9 if it meant her husband beating Magnus. 

The triumphant walk after beating the World Champion | photo: Rafal Oleksiewicz, FIDE

Magnus is famous for bouncing back fast, and he emerged with a healthy advantage out of the opening against Vladimir Fedoseev in the next game, but it was all downhill from there. Vladimir was allowed to play a strong exchange sacrifice, and after 44.Kf5? (44.Ke3! was essential) the outcome was no longer in doubt.  

44…c3! was the beginning of the end for White. If the king was on e3 Magnus could take the pawn, but as it was his hopes had gone. 

Fedoseev waxed lyrical afterwards about how seeing Magnus in action motivates him to improve himself.

I like his method of decision-making, I guess it’s just pure brilliance, and for me games with him mean a lot, because I can simply enjoy. I don’t pretend that I’m close, but [he's someone with] pretty much the same style, who just makes decisions better than me.

This wasn’t that Magnus, however, and for a fleeting moment a 3rd loss in a row was a very real possibility. 

28.Rxe4! was winning for Russian GM Alexandr Predke, with 28…Rxe4 29.Qg6+ Kh8 30.Qxe4 the cute, but not so difficult, point. Instead after 28.Ref1 Qxd4+ Magnus was soon able to crash through. 

The next game, a positional crush that was the only loss Boris Gelfand suffered all day, was a bright spot…

…but it was followed by a third loss, this time a one-way traffic game against Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, that meant Magnus had now lost as many games in one day as in his previous three World Blitz Championships combined.

Arjun Erigaisi is already a feared blitz player | photo: Anna Shtourman, FIDE

The good news, however, was that before the final round he’d won all the remaining games, and in fact he came very close to beating Arjun Erigaisi in the final round, when he would have gone into the second day of blitz in a tie for 3rd place. Instead some brilliant defence from 18-year-old Erigaisi left Magnus still very much in contention, but with little margin for error on the final day. 

Levon Aronian and surprise stars hit the front

Javokhir Sindarov on the way to a draw against 3-time Blitz World Champion Alexander Grischuk | photo: Mark Livshitz, FIDE

The struggles of most of the world’s top players gave a chance for others to shine. 16-year-old Javokhir Sindarov took over from Nodirbek Abdusattorov as the Uzbek star to watch as he raced to a brilliant 7.5/9, including beating fellow high-flyer Shakhriyar Mamedyarov with the Evans Gambit! 

Two losses followed, but Javokhir’s 8.5 at the end of the day still leaves him level with Magnus, Hikaru and co. 14-year-old Polish FM Jan Klimkowski started with 4/5 before leaving a piece en prise against Germany’s Rasmus Svane, who picked up the scalps of Fabiano Caruana and Vladislav Artemiev.

Ukraine’s Martyn Kravtsiv started with 6.5/7 before losing to Vladimir Fedoseev, and the 2017 World Rapid silver medalist was unbeaten until meeting his match in former World Blitz Champion, Levon Aronian.

Levon said he was battling jet-lag after having flown straight from the US — for the first time he’s playing an event under the US flag — but at the board perhaps the most danger he was in was from the dress code regulations!

He racked up an impressive 10/12, with the consecutive wins over Grischuk, Duda and Fedoseev particularly striking.

There was just one moment of panic in the final game against Daniil Dubov, when 28…Qa5! appeared on the board. 

Levon commented:

I blundered. I didn’t see that he has this Qa5 resource, but luckily for me I have 29.Rc1!, which keeps things under control.

After 29.Rc1! Bxa6 30.Rxe7 Rxe7 31.Qb8+ Bf8 32.Bh6! mate was unstoppable. 

In second place is the first African player ever to cross 2700, Egypt’s Bassem Amin. He won eight games, drew three and suffered just one defeat on the way to 9.5/12, though he admitted he’d played some crazy games.

Up on the position and the clock, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave remarkably lost this position with the white pieces!

64.Bf6! was still winning, while after 64.Kxe4? Kxh4 White had no more than a draw. As so often in such cases, things went from bad to worse for Maxime. 

80…Qg2+! was the final winning touch, and White can’t stop the b-pawn queening. 

Half a point behind Bassem is 21-year-old Parham Maghsoodloo, who had a slow start but picked up pace and won his last four games, including against MVL, Mamedov and Duda. He said afterwards the trick was to stop dreaming about particular scores and to relax, taking the pressure off himself!

The standings look as follows at the top going into the final day of the event, with all the players listed in with some chance of claiming the title if they can go on a run in the final nine games. 

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
115GMAronian LevonUSA274010,080,084,52646
254GMAmin BassemEGY26179,578,583,02613
339GMMaghsoodloo ParhamIRI26559,070,574,52594
422GMFedoseev VladimirCFR26908,586,591,02664
5133GMSindarov JavokhirUZB24528,585,591,02688
647GMKravtsiv MartynUKR26388,583,087,02535
77GMNepomniachtchi IanCFR27928,582,588,02602
81GMCarlsen MagnusNOR28928,581,586,52632
911GMGrischuk AlexanderCFR27578,580,585,02647
1014GMDubov DaniilCFR27498,578,583,52605
1119GMMartirosyan Haik M.ARM27078,578,083,52614
1210GMErigaisi ArjunIND27658,577,581,52629
132GMNakamura HikaruUSA28848,575,079,02588
149GMGiri AnishNED27788,573,078,02559
153GMArtemiev VladislavCFR28308,572,075,52577
166GMDuda Jan-KrzysztofPOL27928,082,587,02607
1784IMMuradli MahammadAZE25718,079,082,52613
1828GMSarana AlexeyCFR26728,073,578,52546
198GMVachier-Lagrave MaximeFRA27878,072,076,02609
2040GMGelfand BorisISR26478,069,073,52592
214GMFirouzja AlirezaFRA28108,068,072,52568
2234GMKarjakin SergeyCFR26578,067,071,52556

Both Grischuk and Nakamura missed wins as they drew their final round of the day | photo: Anna Shtourman, FIDE

Blunders and brilliancies

Of course it wouldn’t be a blitz event if it wasn’t overflowing with blunders. Perhaps the most spectacular moment saw 18-year-old Polish Grandmaster Pawel Teclaf successfully build a fortress against Armenia’s Tigran Petrosian. 

Here any move such as 60.Rg4, 60.Rh4 or 60.Rf4 holds, but after 60.Re2+? Kc3! suddenly mate on b2 is unstoppable. A devastating blow, but not as dramatic as what followed!

It’s unlikely others were in quite such physical danger, but it’s enough to pick any round, here Round 3, to find all kinds of moves that blunder checkmate, or pieces.

Lucas van Foreest 0-1 Shevchenko

Duda 1-0 Krasenkow

Mamedov 1-0 Kovalev

Of course there are brilliancies as well. In the same round Maxime Vachier-Lagrave beat Ivan Cheparinov after an extravagant king march. The computer points out some ways for Black to turn the tables, but finding such nuances in blitz is tough, and the concept deserved to succeed!

Assaubayeva storms into the lead

Bibisara finished behind Kosteniuk in Rapid, but she beat her rival in Blitz! | photo: Rafal Oleksiewicz, FIDE

Meanwhile Nodirbek Abdusattorov isn’t the only 17-year-old prodigy shaking the chess world. Bibisara Assaubayeva from Kazakhstan finished runner-up in the World Rapid Championship and goes into the final day of the Blitz as the sole leader, after scoring a brilliant 8/9. 

She lost just one game, to Valentina Gunina, but bounced straight back to beat Women’s World Rapid Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk. 

19…Ne3! 20.fxe3 Rxd3 saw White’s defences crumble. 

Alexandra, Humpy Koneru and Zhansaya Abdumalik are a point behind, with 20-year-old Vaishali in 2nd place on 7.5/9. While Bibisara lost to Gunina, Vaishali beat her in just 20 moves, with 16…Rfc8? a losing mistake. 

17.Nxc6! was the winning move. 17…Qxc6 18.Nd4! wins either the queen or the bishop on h5, so Valentina tried 17…Bxf3 and allowed herself to be mated with 18.Ne7+! Kh8 19.Nxc8 Bxe2 20.Qf8#

Vaishali is just half a point off the pace | photo: Rafal Oleksiewicz, FIDE

The standings look as follows in the women’s event. 

Rk.SNo NameFEDRtgPts. TB1  TB2  TB3 
129IMAssaubayeva BibisaraKAZ22858,046,548,52283
221IMVaishali RIND23137,543,546,02235
33GMKoneru HumpyIND24837,047,552,02255
45GMKosteniuk AlexandraCFR24757,044,047,52225
512GMAbdumalik ZhansayaKAZ23807,042,544,02209
66GMGunina ValentinaCFR24526,551,556,52286
77GMGoryachkina AleksandraCFR24416,548,552,52316
869WIMKamalidenova MeruertKAZ20906,546,549,02324
924IMShuvalova PolinaCFR23066,546,049,52202
104GMStefanova AntoanetaBUL24776,537,541,02174

The final day starts one-hour earlier and you don't want to miss it! Blitz OpenBlitz Women

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